from In Play Showroom
Brand representatives and showrooms play a large part in the wholesale sector of the kids’ fashion and lifestyle industry. As essential members of our community, we wanted to take the time to dive into what they do. Join us as we learn more from Hilary Beck, one of the co-owners and brand reps from In Play Showroom, who was at Playtime & Kid’s Hub New York this winter with the brands Appaman, Mini Melissa, Paige Lauren, Tiny Tribe Australia, Tiny Whales, and Impanema & Cartago Sandals.
My name is Hilary Beck, and I am the co-owner, along with Sandra Roe, of In Play Showroom. A showroom, sometimes called a brand agency, acts as a representative for brands. Brands hire us to get their products into different retailers around the United States and help them manage and build relationships with retailers. We also help the brand build their line to increase sales and brand exposure year over year.
In Play Showroom, in its original form, was started in 1989. Sandra took the business over from her former boss in 2003, and then we started working together in 2008. From the beginning, In Play has been focused on contemporary, fashion forward kids’ clothing and accessories. Many brands we’ve worked with have adult lines that they then expand into the kid’s market with mini-me styles. From the original showroom based in Los Angeles, California, Sandra and I have worked together to grow the showroom nationwide. From this West Coast territory, we expanded into New York City, then Dallas, Texas and Atlanta, Georgia. In order to achieve this growth, we decided to focus on representing fewer brands over a larger territory of the United States. This way, we can focus on building long term, lasting relationships with those brands.
When we bring on a brand, we really aim to make it a long term relationship and partnership. We’ve found that the more we can partner with the brand to work together, the more successful we all are. We work with them on building the assortment, developing marketing, and getting the stores what they need.
I think overall, buyer education is one of the most important parts of being a sales rep. A lot of stores open and don’t necessarily have a lot of knowledge about how buying works or how to manage inventory. It’s a really steep learning curve for everyone. Part of our responsibility both to our brands and the buyer is to educate them as much as we can about what we feel like will work best for them. We base this on what they’re looking to do with their store. By letting the store know the history of the brand, its objectives, sustainability aspects, and what kind company they’re buying from only strengthens that connection. This helps form a partnership between the brand rep and retailer as well.
The main goal for us, as brand reps at In Play, is to meet the buyers where they are. Everyone has different schedules, as well as different ways they prefer to buy. Some prefer to see the line in person and then place orders online, whereas others place orders directly at the trade show or market. We find that a lot of our buyers are also moms, so they need to work around their family schedule. Being at the physical shows and markets is one of the ways we can meet buyers where they are. This makes it easier for them to see the lines and place orders, and allows us to make a connection with them.
We saw a lot of people get burnt out from connecting over screens during the global pandemic. There is something to be said for meeting in person. Seeing and being able to touch the products, working alongside each other to put together an order, and making that personal connection makes such a difference. Although we use online selling systems, video calls, and other tools available to us, it’s hard to replace that experience. Even when it comes to connecting with our brands or our other colleagues in the industry, it’s really hard to replace the connections that are made at the shows. It’s important for us to be there in person. Sandra and I try to get to the shows as much as possible to connect with our brands and the buyers.
There are many differences in terms of product preferences, price point variations, buying styles, even delivery dates. For example, on the East Coast many retailers want products as early as possible, sticking to more traditional delivery timelines. Their customers follow seasonal trends in that their shoppers seem to buy early or ahead of season. Shoppers on the West Coast buy more often as the need for a product arises, rather than ahead of season.
Something else that we’ve noticed is independent businesses really are a strong point on the East Coast. On the West Coast, more people generally have access to big box stores and can drive to big shopping centers. This can make it a bit harder for us in terms of price point sensitivity and getting people to support their local stores. On the East Coast a lot of people live in cities and use public transportation more. They don’t necessarily have easy access to big box stores, so we see more of a reliance and need for independent stores on the East Coast.
I would say the West Coast kid’s market is rebuilding. Our showroom is in a newly renovated building, and I think renovations like ours have brought a lot of energy back to this market. They are offering a fresh start and more modern, inspiring surroundings. It is still a pretty laid back market. People tend to be a little less intense and live by a “take it as it comes” mentality. I would say that it’s a hopeful market, too. We’re seeing and hearing a lot of hope from both buyers and brands about where we’re going. We’re seeing a resurgence of independent businesses, with a lot of people starting to value them again. There’s a lot of hope from our retailers that local business is becoming valued and important again.
We’ve come to realize that working with people and brands that align with our personal values only enhanced the partnership. This has always motivated us to work with brands that we aesthetically love, but working with brands that value sustainability and give back programs takes that to another level for us.
That is a great question. We came out of covid survival mode a while ago now but have continued, with everyone else, to navigate supply chain issues. From product & shipping price increases to an overall sense of uncertainty, things are complicated. Our focus has been on building back together with our team and staying more connected with them. The directions and decisions we make for our business are made together. We are always looking at new avenues of business that will take In Play outside of the traditional kids’ clothing and apparel sales, staying open to opportunity and as nimble as possible so we can pivot as needed. If we learned one thing over the past three years it is to expect change and challenge.
We’ve always loved Playtime! In the early days of the show, our brands were a bit more mainstream focused. So, while we followed and loved the aesthetic of Playtime, we didn’t feel it was the right show for our brands. When Kid’s Hub was added to the New York show, we were really excited to participate! We find that it offers a great combination of the aesthetics and intimacy of Playtime, while being a section that is more in line with our brands. Playtime & Kid’s Hub New York really gets the buyers to the show that we need to see in order to do business with our brands. These buyers tend to be based more in the United States and a little more in-line with our price point. We see both the buyers that we expect to meet, as well as new buyers and retailers. For us, it has been a great experience! We love the venue, and we love being in the city and the accessibility that offers. We’re definitely seeing our business grow with the show season after season.
Thank you so much to Hilary for giving us such thoughtful insights into brand reps, In Play Showroom, and the variations between the East and West Coast kid’s markets. With showrooms across the United States, Hilary has a unique perspective on the children’s market as a whole. Brand reps like Hilary from In Play are key members of our community, and we love learning more about the part they play in the industry.
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